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Nikkei al descubierto: una columna de poesía

Seize—transformation & renewal

Leaving the end of a long 2020 while entering 2021 with a combination of uncertainty, excitement, determined joy, and perpetual angst, I thought it fitting to have this month’s theme derive its inspiration from the writer and the title of his latest book of poetry, Seize. This month’s feature, Brian Komei Dempster—a Sansei author and educator based in the Bay Area of California—graciously provided us with a handful of beautiful pieces from Seize, based upon my request to think on the ideas of “transformation” and “renewal.” The two we are able to present here are striking moments from his book that had me reaching for more of his storytelling—in wonder of what comes to and from a family in concert with dis-ease and taking care of each other through struggle and beauty, pain, and comfort. Enjoy…

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Brian Komei Dempster’s second poetry collection, Seize, was published by Four Way Books in fall 2020. His debut book of poems, Topaz (Four Way Books, 2013), received the 15 Bytes 2014 Book Award in Poetry. Dempster is editor of From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps (Kearny Street Workshop, 2001), which received a 2007 Nisei Voices Award from the National Japanese American Historical Society, and Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement (Heyday, 2011). He is a professor of rhetoric and language at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as Director of Administration for the Master’s in Asia Pacific Studies program.



The park below gives us fire, orange leaves
over green. I gulped coffee as I drove, Grace held
                                         the cold cloth

on his head. I do I do he babbled
                             his mantra. Our mouths chalked, minds chipped
                                         and torn
away. He never gets better
                                         I said. Her lips tightened, That doesn’t

help us. Back to our corners. Another night
                                         in ER. Two bags of fluids
             through our eight-year-old son. A flock sweeps
                                                      over, shadows

the flame, spiking mercury,
                                                      the night cracked
                             into ice chips, his skin
paling, seizing
                             stopped. Some couples like us

                                         end up broken Grace says, rubs
my back. Not us I tell her, my hand
                                         on his chest
             as he sleeps. Through

                                                      the window, I see
                             kids swinging
                                                      into the sky, gulls rising, wings white
as Brendan's shirt, the silk
                                         of Grace’s gown. The long field flickering, she leans

against me, our forms resting with his
                                                      in glass. A whole life of
                             I do
                                         I do.

* This poem first appeared in Boulevard (Vol. 35, No. 1, Fall 2019) and was later published in Seize © 2020 by Brian Komei Dempster. Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

Brendan’s I Am

A close flash,

             quick torrent.  

The sounding

             near. It happened     

in time. The path

             deepened, water reached    

the house. Our son, 14, walked alone

             to his blue stroller chair. Wheels  

locked, we strapped

             him in,

his body still

             as Buddha

beneath the tree.

             I steadied the bowl.

Grace raised

             the spoon

of broth

             to his lips. Her words Brendan, 

we just want you

             to have

a happy life.


touches his tongue.

             Two syllables 

gush from

             his mouth.

             gathers, our eyes close,

the current flows 

             through us.                                                  

His first real


I am.

* This poem is from Seize © 2020 by Brian Komei Dempster.
Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.


© 2020 Brian Komei Dempster

Brian Komei Dempster Nikkei Uncovered poetry Seize traci kato-kiriyama

Sobre esta serie

Nikkei al descubierto: una columna de poesía es un espacio destinado a la comunidad nikkei para compartir historias a través de diversas composiciones sobre cultura, historia y experiencia personal. La columna presentará una amplia variedad de formas poéticas y contenido con temas que incluyen historia, raíces, identidad; historia—el pasado en el presente; la comida como ritual, celebración y legado; rituales y supuestos de tradiciones; lugar, ubicación y comunidad así como el amor.

Hemos invitado a la autora, artista y poetisa traci kato-kiriyama para que sea la curadora de esta columna de poesía mensual, en donde publicaremos a uno o dos poetas los tercer jueves de cada mes, desde escritores mayores o jóvenes que recién empiezan en la poesía a autores publicados de todo el país. Esperamos descubrir una red de voces vinculadas entre sí a través de innumerables diferencias y experiencias conectadas.